Sometimes, when I go into my local Barnes and Noble bookstore, I find it hard to breathe.
I enter, and the cold air conditioning is a welcome contrast to the blistering hot Florida morning. I go from bright to dark, I go from warm to cool, I go from peace to anxiety.
I can feel my heart start to pound faster in my chest, and my eyes are assaulted by the sheer number of THINGS that fill my vision.
The colors, the cacophony, the books, the toys, the magazines and calendars seem to overwhelm me upon entering.
Don’t get me wrong. I love bookstores. I’ve worked in a few as a bookseller and a manager, and I’ve haunted even more as a customer. Used bookstores are my favorite, because they are calm, they are old, they are wise, and they seem to survive upon the grace and kindness of people like me – readers who love books.
We walk their musty aisles like an archaeologist looks at a hole in the ground. You poke, you prod, you read the spines, you pull one out and read the first page, looking for that rare find, that exquisite set of bones.
To a reader, a book can be a treasure.
To a writer, a bookstore can be a torture.
Walk Down The Bookstore Aisles And Despair
Bookstores are meant to sell one thing: books.
When I walk into the chain store, I see books – thousands of books, and I know that next week, some of them will be gone, and there will be a fresh shipment, unpacked in the back room and put on a rolling cart to be shelved and take their place.
Books go out the door, books come in the door, books, books, books.
I cannot fathom the sheer number of books that are published each year, but I can look it up.
In 2013, there were almost 305,000 books published in the United States. Given the explosive growth of self-publishing, I can only imagine that that number has grown exponentially.
Maybe half a million?
That is why I despair when I come into this building. I cannot help but see all the books, each one fighting for your attention, battling for your money. The booksellers decide which ones will be ‘faced out’, so you can see the entire cover, and not just the spine.
This decision alone, can affect the sales of a book. The mere turn of a wrist, can add dollars to the writer and the publisher’s pockets, or it can steal them.
I look at the shelves and I think of my own novels, and the thought of getting them in the store, and then having them struggle to find an audience makes me sad.
It makes me angry.
It makes me want to quit writing.
Don’t Throw In The Towel, Grab A Garden Spade
One thing that I love about the recovery movement is that no matter what problem you are facing, they probably have a very good solution for it.
As someone who grew up in an alcoholic environment, I always keep a watchful eye on myself, my drinking and my codependent tendencies. A good book is always on my nightstand, and during times of stress or despair, I reach for it, read, meditate, pray, try to adjust my thinking and move forward.
I learned one such solution recently, and I’ve been applying it to my thoughts about books and writing and creativity for creativity’s sake.
Here’s the solution for when you are feeling overwhelmed, in despair, and just feel like chucking the whole thing out the window:
Tend your own garden.
Say this phrase aloud, right now, and get a good visual to go with it.
Tend your own garden.
In her book, “Change Your Mind, And Your Life Will Follow”, Karen Casey tells us that this is the primary healing thought that we must learn.
Growing up, we learned that because we had lost control of our own lives, due to the chaos that drinking or drugs had brought to our doorstep, we found it necessary to compensate by taking control of others’ lives.
The key word here is control.
You can physically try to control others.
You can passive aggressively try to control others.
You can become judgmental and think that others should live their life as you see fit.
This need for control can overrun your life and cause you great misery.
When this need for control, or judgment extends into your creative work, it can paralyze you and fill you with fear and anger. When I walk down the aisles of the Barnes and Noble, I allow my hand to graze the spines, as one would caress the growing stalks of wheat in a field, and I say “I will tend to my own garden.”
Okay, but what the hell is a garden?
Where Is Your Garden, And What Are You Growing There?
When it comes to tending your own garden, there are a few ways to interpret this phrase, and you are more than welcome to adopt mine, and you are more than welcome to come up with your own.
To me, my garden is my writing career and my beautiful flowers are my books.
In my garden, word by word, paragraph by paragraph and page by page, I grow my books. I keep focused on my garden, as opposed to being distressed by, or judging the garden of other writers.
All those books in the bookstore have nothing to do with me. Those authors have nothing to do with me.
They are on their own path, just like I am on mine.
Each of us is on a creative journey, and each of us has lessons to learn on this journey. Instead of thinking “sell out”, I remind myself to tend my own garden.
Instead of thinking “they don’t deserve that advance”, I remind myself to tend my own garden.
Instead of thinking “how can folks read that crap?”, I remind myself to tend my own garden.
For that is the only thing I can focus on.
My own thoughts, my own actions, my own writing, my own creativity, my own journey.
The only thing I can focus on is my garden.
I will study my craft, so that I can plant seeds that are healthy.
I will read good books, so that I can know what my garden might look like in the future.
I will write, page after page, at my own pace, in my own time, and till the soil gently, so that those seeds may grow.
I will tend my garden, and then, when it is the right time, and it is in full bloom, I will open my garden gate, I will allow others in and let them read my book, view my garden, discover my story, and hopefully they will think my garden is just as beautiful as I do.
I will tend my own garden.
Please take out your journal, and write the phrase “I will tend my own garden” at the top of the page, and then tell me about your garden.
Tell me what you are reading, and what seeds you are planting.
Tell me what you will do on a daily basis to tend your garden, for gardens may die of neglect.
Tell me what you will do when you start trying to climb over the fence and tend someone else’s garden.
Tell me what you want your garden to look like in a year, in 5 years, in a decade.
How will it grow?
What will it look like?
You garden is yours, and yours alone, and it will bloom at the perfect time, regardless of whether you worry or fret. Tend your garden, treat it gently and with love and care, and it will grow, it will blossom, and it will be wonderful.
Then, and only then, can you decide whether to allow others to view your garden, or whether you want to enjoy the scents, the colors and the textures to yourself.
The world needs more art.
Dig deeply into your heart, into the soil and plant the seeds.
The world needs more love and kindness.
Each day, pick up your pen, your brush, your laptop, and water your garden, treat it with kindness and care.
The world needs more gardens.
Protect yours from the negative thoughts of others, for beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and also keep your judgments to yourself, for they are a cruel heat, a drowning rain that can kill gardens in their infancy.
Tend your garden.
Also published on Medium.